The Mosaic Christ

art, Creativity, Faith, Historic neighborhood, Holy Spirit, hope, Icons, incarnation, inspiration, Italy, mystery, Painting, perfection, Ravenna Italy, Reflection, renewal, Spirituality, Travel, vision

The Body of Christ is All of Us

The Body of Christ represents the perfection of all humanity as the image of God. The body of Christ we know as the church is made of many individuals, just as a mosaic design is constructed of many pieces to make a whole. I think of these as the “two bodies of Christ,” even though the literalists among us might think Jesus has only one body. The mysterious body of Christ is what Paul speaks about in his letter to the Romans:

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (12:4-5).

I Am the Bread of Life: Macaroni Christ Icon

Since each one of us is made in the image of God, but of ordinary materials, together we become a mosaic of the whole Body of Christ, going onto his perfection as we encounter and encourage one another within and without the church. After all, the body of Christ isn’t limited to the walls of our buildings, for Christ said in Matthew 25:40—

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

I have a penchant for recycling canvases and paintings which no longer please me. I’m willing to destroy them and make something new. They die and are reborn into a new life. I learned something from that former experience, but now it’s time to move on. When I read my Bible, I’m always getting new inspiration and ideas from the same verses. I have texts I’ve preached on at least a dozen times, but I always came at it from a different angle. This is how we know the Bible is a living document and the Holy Spirit is always at work in us to reveal what we need to hear for our time and place.

Basilica of Sant’ Apollinaire: The Good Shepherd

We Christians in the Western world have tended to limit God’s self revelation to the spoken word and, to a lesser degree, to the Eucharistic elements in the Institution of the Lord’s Supper:

“While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” (Mark 14:22).

Unfortunately, when we emptied the world of images of God, we also emptied the created world of God. This is why art is so important and necessary to bring us back to appreciate not only creativity, but also the creating God.

Likewise, images in art are beautiful and inspiring. Some which I’ve had the privilege to see in person over the years have made a difference in my artistic and spiritual journeys. These are a few which have inspired me: Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, Pompeiian artifacts buried by Vesuvius, and the sacred treasures of the Vatican.

Emperor Justinian

I’ll focus only on the mosaics in Ravenna, which is the site of the Mausoleum of Theoderic (c.520) and the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinaire Nuovo (500-514), both built by Theodoric the Great (454-526). Here too is the Basilica of San Vitale (c.527-546), begun by Queen Amalasuntha (495-535), Theodoric’s daughter; and the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe (c.535-549), built by the Greek banker Julianus Argentarius, who also financed the church of San Vitale. These were all very important people of their time.

San Vitale, Ravenna

Although many of Ravenna’s surviving structures have been heavily restored, the city remains the most important site of Byzantine art outside Constantinople, notably for its exquisite decorative art, including mosaics, relief sculpture, mural pictures, ceramic art, maiolica, ivory carving, marble inlays, goldsmithing, ornamented sarcophagi and much more. This treasure house of art objects made Ravenna a must see on our itinerary during my summer in Italy.

My parents gave me the choice of a car or a trip to Italy with the University Systems of Georgia for my college graduation present. Of course, I took the trip. Cars are everywhere and I could get my own one day or ride the bus if I needed to get somewhere. Italy was a trip of a lifetime, for we’d spend a whole summer in the studios in Cortona, and travel about the countryside on day trips during the session. I even got good enough with my Italian to hold small conversations with native speakers. People even invited into their homes for lunch, where I got my first taste of rabbit. These animals were sold live in the farmer’s market in Cortona’s town square on Saturdays.

At every site we visited, I stood amazed in the presence of some ancient and inspiring work of art. In the historic churches, the best artists and craftspeople of the era had the opportunity to put their skills to good use, for they were not only working for notable patrons, but also for God. Money wasn’t an object either, for extravagance for God was considered a good work worthy of a heavenly reward.

Of course, seeing the art works and experiencing the spiritual impact of the works in their setting are two entirely different things. On a tour, when huge groups of people are tramping in and out of the sanctuary, tour leaders raise their flags, signs, or ubiquitous water bottles to quiet their group before they give a lecture, and then they turn en mass like a flock of ducks, everyone exiting together to clamber onto the bus or to walk to the next place to view some sacred site.

Golden Mosaics in San Vitale

As a person on a spiritual pilgrimage, this experience can be quite jarring unless you prepare yourself in advance. Even though in that period of my life I wasn’t a believer in a personal god, nevertheless I was still seeking the mysterious experience of the presence of God. I found if I took a few moments of personal quiet to put my spirit in a receptive mode before I entered the holy spaces, I was able to ignore the chaos around me. No longer did I focus on the comings and goings of the people around me, but I looked up instead at the beautiful artworks and the glory the ancient artists wanted to give to God as they rendered the images on the walls or sculpted the images.

These mosaics are fantastic works of art, with each image made of thousands of tiny pieces of stone and glass. In the early morning light, the golden tesserae shimmer and reflect the sunlight streaming inside. When viewed in this light, the figures would see to float in a heavenly light.

6th-century apse mosaic of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

The icons of Christ always have an other worldly look about them, as Jesus said,

“My kingdom is not from this world.” (John 18:36).

We always see in the icon the resurrected body of Christ, the heavenly body of Christ, not merely the physical body of Christ. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:44—

“It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.”

This is why the icons have elongated faces, small mouths, and large eyes. Their facial proportions are not “realistic “according to “actual proportions.” In western art, representation of physical reality with perspective, foreshortening, and shading gives us a sense of earthly realism. Icon “writers” reject perspective, and other cues of reality to give their works a sense of “other worldliness.”

Mosaic Christ Painting

In other words, we see what we are going on to be, rather than what we are now. The icons are a window into the spiritual or heavenly world. If we have an icon in our home, it is a conduit to that heavenly world, much like a wormhole is a conduit to another point in space. Christ’s eyes have a far away look, as if he sees beyond this moment of now, in which we so firmly fix ourselves, to see the future hope of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks in 29:11—

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

This Mosaic Christ woven canvas art work has a light coat of gold acrylic paint over the multi colored background, so the colors show through. Because the brushstrokes don’t cover the whole square, the grid colors show up as colored mortar. The shape of the face and the hair aren’t treated subtly as in a painting, but take on the look of a mosaic.

When I paint an icon, I lose all sense of time. I enter into that holy time in which God IS, and where Jesus is when he says, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58) In other words, I lose all concept of chronological time and enter into the kairos time of God: the right and opportune time, which is known only to God. I stop painting when I sense I’m taking back control of the brush, for then I’ve left kairos time and reentered chronological time.

I look at the clock and think, “Snack time.” It’s time to stop, take care of my physical body, until I’m once again able to renter that spiritual space where time has no meaning, for I’m at home with God. Painting a holy icon is a truly spiritual experience, for those who make their hearts open to the opportunity to experience the holy encroaching into this world. I hope your eyes now are more opened to seeing the holy image of God in-breaking into this earthly realm.

Joy, peace, and sugar cookies,

Cornelia

Meditation with Mandalas

adult learning, architecture, art, beauty, Carl Jung, Chartres Cathredral, Creativity, Faith, Holy Spirit, incarnation, inspiration, mandala, Meditation, Ministry, Notre Dame de Paris, Painting, perfection, Spirituality

The mandala is a geometric design representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. It generally has a circular form and can be varied in any number of ways, but it’s always balanced. In the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, mandalas are objects of meditation to aid in one’s spiritual development. The imagery depicts the universe and the symbols represent one’s spiritual journey, the cycles of birth-life-death, and the interconnectedness of all living things.

The Hindu tradition focuses on the realization of the self as one with the divine. Whereas in the Buddhist tradition, the emphasis is on the potential for enlightenment (Buddha-nature) and the pictures within the mandalas illustrate the obstacles that one has to overcome in order to cultivate compassion and wisdom. Drawing mandalas in this tradition follows strict rules.

Castle Mandala by Carl Jung, from the Red Book

Carl J. Jung was the Swiss psychiatrist who introduced to the West the practice of creating mandalas for self-expression, discovery, and healing. He discovered the shapes, colors, and symbols of his mandalas reflected his mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being at the time that he created them. He noticed his mandala drawings changed as his mental and emotional states changed. Reflecting on these mandala drawings, Jung concluded our subconscious and conscious selves are always seeking balance. When Jung worked with his clients, he would have them draw mandalas. He observed through creating mandalas, his patients experiencing chaotic psychological states could regain balance and calm. Jung also identified universal patterns and archetypes that reoccurred in his and his clients’ mandalas.

Celtic Cross Knot: Everything is Connected

As in other cultures, the round shape in Christianity represents the universe, and therefore, is seen as a way to connect the earthly and spiritual realms. Whether in the form of windows in a church or as a rosary, mandalas are used to take the time to contemplate the self and the divine. Perhaps the most iconic representation of the Christian mandala is in the majestic stained glass windows that decorate many churches and cathedrals. While some of these are on a far grander scale than others, the stained glass window is often made up of a central point – often the figure or scene being depicted – which is surrounded by a design that is inherently geometric due to the fact that it’s made up of hard-edge pieces of glass.

Some of the world’s oldest cathedrals are home to rose windows. The rose window is one of the most classic examples of the mandala in Christianity, and their origins trace back to the Roman oculi. These windows are created using geometric segments, and can contain extremely intricate patterns made from different colors of glass, all of which extend out from a central starting point in the middle of the circle.

South Rose Window, Notre Dame, Paris
Photo: Getty Images/Julian Elliott Photography

Aside from its famous French Gothic architecture, this venerable cathedral contains some of the most iconic stained glass in the world. Pictured here is the South Rose Window—a gift from King Louis IX of France—which was designed by Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuil. Installed in 1260, the window is 42 feet in diameter and contains 84 panes divided into four circles. It serves as a counterpoint to the window on the north side, which was completed a decade prior.

Notre Dame, North Rose Window, Two views after the fire of 2019

Of course, we can also see balance and symmetry in architectural designs around and above us, even if they weren’t meant meant to be “symbols of the universe or creation.” We have to ask ourselves, “How do we feel when we enter a space of a particular design?” The architect uses forms, voids, lines, and heights to imbue in us certain emotions, as well as to make the building practical for its intended use. I always know I’ve found my home when I’m house hunting because the place will “call me by name.” I’ll feel at ease when I walk in. It won’t matter how badly the current owners have decorated it, the place will call to me.

Gran Hotel Ciudad de México, Mexico City
Photo: Courtesy of Nick Mafi

This 1899 upmarket department store with a soaring Tiffany-stained-glass ceiling in the lobby was transformed into a luxury hotel in anticipation of the 1968 Olympic Games. The ceiling, which evokes the country’s Mesoamerican heritage with a lively palette of turquoise and gold, was designed by French artisan Jacques Gruber and also features a Louis XV–style chandelier. The domes in the center have a geometric, mandala design.

Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago
Former Chicago Public Library
Photo: Alamy

The Louis Comfort Tiffany dome at the Chicago Cultural Center measures 38 feet in diameter, making it one of the largest stained-glass domes in the world. Held together by an ornate cast-iron frame that features some 30,000 pieces of glass shaped like fish scales, the dome was finished in 1897, the same year the building opened as the city’s first public library. The dome underwent a meticulous restoration in 2008 and is now lighted electrically. Tiffany pushed the art of stained glass to the extreme, but this dome certainly has the wow factor the citizens of that era expected, for Chicago was a world class city experiencing tremendous growth, while attracting such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright and hosting the World’s Colombian Exhibition in 1893.

Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona
Photo: Alamy


Completed by Catalan Art Nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner in 1908, this steel-framed concert hall boasts a stained-glass skylight featuring a three-dimensional depiction of the sun. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the music hall contains countless other artworks, including the busts of Anselm Clavé and Beethoven flanking the stage. It’s also the only European concert hall to be illuminated only by natural light. The impressive stained-glass ceiling and the way it’s designed allows the Palau de la Música to use only natural light to illuminate the main concert hall during the day.

Dome, Salzburg Cathedral

Designed by Italian architect, Santino Solari, the Salzburg Cathedral in Austria stands out in a city already filled with stunning architecture. Built in the 17th century, the cathedral was the site of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s baptism. In the center of the dome is a sunburst behind a descending dove of the Holy Spirit. The hexagonal shape repeats down through the dome, with window openings ending at the four trapezoid shapes at the column junctions, which contain paintings of the four gospel authors. It is peaceful and serene, ordered and mathematically precise, much like a Mozart composition. It’s said Mozart wrote his pieces almost without correction, as if they came to life fully born, like Athena, who sprang to life in full adult form from Zeus’ forehead when he had a terrible headache.

Sally’s Flower Inspired Mandala

Our class has painted mandalas before, but this was before Sally had joined us, so it was a novel idea to her. Still, she decided to go for it, using her new favorite color, Manganese blue. The growing and expanding flower shapes show her love and connection to the natural world. She can paint faster than her decision making can override her energy. This takes time to learn the discipline to hold back the hand, or one can choose to paint on a larger canvas to spread that energy around. Sometimes we have to get our tools fitted to our personalities so we can make the art best suited to our energy and creative imagination. Then our work will begin to “speak to others and call to them with the unique artistic voice of the creator.”

Mike’s Mandala

Mike’s mandala balances dark and light, circles and squares, and various sizes of triangles. I get a sense it’s a representation of the creation of earth, but I didn’t get a chance to confirm this with him. Mike typically sits down to paint and doesn’t talk much during class. This is his quiet place, his meditation place, and his medicine for his very busy life. The only thing that will get him talking is “Did you hear about those SEC coaches calling each other out? That’s gonna be some kind of hoodoo when they get together.”

Cornelia’s Sunflower Mandala

I got started on another creation mandala: the plants and vegetation. I’m basing it on the sunflower, but I’ve only just begun. I have the graphite underdrawing, and part of the central image painted. I’m just a bit irritated at the graphite, since it mixes into the paint and grays it out. This is why I usually sketch my initial image in a pale yellow wash, which I can easily paint over.

Jung wrote in Memories, Dreams and Reflections, “The mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the Self. This circular image represents the wholeness of the psychic ground or, to put it in mythic terms, the divinity incarnate in man” ( Pages 334-33). As Philippians 3:21 promises,

“He will transform our humble bodies so that they may be conformed to his glorious body, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”

Those of us who spend time in meditation don’t do this practice merely to feel better or to relieve stress, but to become one with the creator of the universe. As we come closer to God and Christ, we also become closer to the people for whom Christ gave his birth, life, death, and resurrection. As he said,

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” ~~ John 12:32

The unity of those for whom Christ lived, died, and was resurrected, is all encompassing. It’s not for a selected few, or for some who look like us or believe like us, but for “all people.” It’s a common fault among human beings to ask, like the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, “But who is my neighbor?” Jesus led him to understand the one who showed mercy to the hurt one was the true neighbor, even if Samaritans normally were shunned.

If drawing mandalas brings us to understand our Bible, our faith, and our God in a deeper way, I’m all for it. If all we’re doing is making pretty patterns on a blank surface, without contemplating the generous Providence of the God who created and sustains our universe, we might as well be mumbling the Apostles Creed on a Sunday morning without giving a thought to any of the words we say. Both of these can be time fillers, mere mind numbing activities, that keep us from having the inner form of Christ, while we give the outward appearance of Christianity. This would be a waste of time, and as the ancient word concerning the law says,

“Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” ~~ Deuteronomy 10:16-19

Next week is our last class for the spring, to let this old teacher have a summer break. We’ll start up again in the fall after Labor Day. If you’ve never painted before, this a one room Art School. Everyone proceeds at their own pace. You only have to give up your competitive spirit and your desire for immediate gratification and perfection. It’s art, not microwave pop tarts. You won’t be Michelangelo and that’s a good thing. He’s dead. We want you to be alive and growing in Christ.

Joy, peace, and mandalas,

Cornelia

What is a Mandala? | How to Draw Mandalas and the 100 Mandalas Challenge with Kathryn Costa
https://100mandalas.com/what-is-a-mandala/

Beautiful Stained-Glass Windows Around the World | Architectural Digest
https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/stained-glass-windows

Carl Jung: Ten Quotations about Mandalas – Jung Currents
http://jungcurrents.com/carl-jung-ten-quotations-about-mandalas

Palau de la Música Catalana: Barcelona’s most amazing concert hall – MAKESPAIN https://makespain.com/listing/palau-de-la-musica-catalana/

This is the Way

adult learning, art, beauty, change, Children, Creativity, Faith, Holy Spirit, Imagination, inspiration, ministry, mystery, nature, Painting, purpose, Reflection, risk, shadows, Socrates, Spirituality, vision

Are we our works? Are we valued by our works? Is work a noun or a verb? The child in me asks these questions until the parent in me wants to answer, “I don’t know. Go ask Alexa!”

Alexa Meme

We’ve all been there with the rug rats of our families and kinfolks. Children are curious and for this we’re grateful. This incessant questioning is their way of learning about the world. It’s altogether better than a puppy’s chewing on every new object it comes across. If families are to encourage their child’s interest, they get them a library card so they can have internet access and books to read, and they answer as many questions as possible. If they don’t know the answer, “Go look it up in Google or the encyclopedia.”

In ancient Greece, Socrates taught by asking his students questions, a technique we call the Socratic Method. Some of us teach art in this way also. When we see the student at a stopping point, we teachers ask, “Are you having a problem and not figuring out a solution?”

Raphael: School of Athens , Vatican City, 1509-11.

The student can usually point out what they want to change on their work, but they don’t have the experience or prior learning to drawn upon to solve it. For instance, if the flower petals all look flat because they’re painted in one color, the beginning student knows this doesn’t look right, but they need a trained eye to point out the variety of values in the petals. Once they see the gradation of light to dark, it’s never again unseen. We know it’s there.

Teachers can point out the range of values from dark to light that make up the visual vocabulary of shading a two dimensional image so it looks like a three dimensional shape. Students can learn this technique and master it over time. Mastery then becomes a matter of hand and eye coordination. In a sense, we have to lose ourselves in the subject matter so we can let its energies enter into our hearts and minds, and quicken our hands. The rest is a matter of practice and learning how our egos can quit controlling the outcome.

Old Farmland off Higdon Ferry Road

The spiritual writer and Jesuit priest Richard Rohr speaks of the three eyes in his book, The Naked Now. The first eye grasps what the senses can understand, the second eye understands the science and poetry, while the third eye is aware of all of the above, but especially how all things connect as part of God’s great mystery. When we enter into this “now,” we’re present not only to God, but to all creation, as well as our own selves. This is the contemplative spirit for which the artist strives, and not just for the mastery of the materials or for the rendering of the subject matter.

If we allow this energy to move our hands, does that mean our work also becomes part of us? If we baked a simple yellow cake out of a box, we might not ask that question. When we start decorating a cake made from scratch and adding frillies of frosting, then we start identifying with the cake. Should someone smash the cake enroute to the soirée, there’ll be hockey sticks to pay.

I remember almost fainting in Italy when I saw a glue blob on one of my delicate watercolor paintings, which had just been framed for an exhibition there. A stiff shot of some unknown alcohol brought me back to life. The framer made it good, for the glue was water soluble, so we could gently lift it up. I was more of a drama Queen in my 20’s also. I take things as they come these days. I also was more immature, for I didn’t separate my work from my identity.

Some say we are what we eat, so then are we what we create? Jesus had an answer in Mark 7:18-19 for those who thought certain foods were unclean, or forbidden to eat:

“He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)”

That fancy dinner we ate two nights ago leaves us after a few cups of coffee in the morning. We don’t recognize it and most of us don’t even inspect it as we flush it down the toilet on its way out the sewage pipes to the sanitation station. Of course, only parents can get excited about their two year olds who manage to do their “business” in the toilet instead of in their diapers. I know I was one of those. If Facebook had been invented back in the day, I’m sure I’d have posted an update.

As we grow older, we enjoy making and crafting for the experience of the textures and the command of the materials. Children have fun pushing the paints, papers, and glue all around the surface of their artwork. Parents often look askance at the grey, scribbled messes their children excitedly present to them for the honored place on the refrigerator display, but these muddy creations are the result of a dramatic story of their child’s imagination. “Interesting, why don’t you tell me what’s going on here?” Is an adult’s best response in this situation.

Art Lesson: Cut a Snowman on the Fold

I’ve had kindergarten children meltdown because they had difficulty cutting a snowman on the fold. It’s hard to be five years old and live in a home in which the parents don’t want their children to make a mess. These children, as a result, have poor fine motor skills, have difficulty writing, and handling scissors. Even folding a piece of paper is tough. Then they miss the important information: hold the fold, and cut on the flaps. If they hold the flaps instead, they end up with two halves of a snowman. And a meltdown into tears.

“I’ll never be able to make a snowman! My snowman is cut in two pieces. Why can you make a perfect snowman and I can’t?”

Therapy Hat

This lesson always called for me to wear my therapy hat, and remind my five year old students I’d been making folded snowmen for a very long time and my first ones looked just like theirs did. There was hope for them. We just needed to go over the directions again and make one together. Sometimes we miss a step, and that’s ok. It’s just a piece of paper. It’s not like we took away recess from everyone forever.

Usually when we went over the directions again, I could remind them of the way to hold the fold and cut the flaps. Then they’d all be amazed at how easy the project was. “Everything is easier when you follow the directions.” They’d laugh and start decorating their snowman, all their meltdowns forgotten.

Most of us aren’t successful the first time we attempt a new experience. If we were all extraordinary artists right off the mark, none of us ever would get excited about Michelangelo, Rembrandt, or Picasso. If we could all pick up a musical instrument and play it well right off the bat, who’d have the need for civic symphonies or even bar bands? We’d all be happy making our own music. The truth is some of us not only have the interest and inclination, but also the will to spend not just hours, but years, honing our craft, until we sing our notes purely or paint with a master’s hand.

Woven Canvas: Greenway Park

If we all aren’t masters, we all can enjoy the journey if we learn to detach our egos from our products. When I wrote papers in seminary, before I opened up my graded work, I’d repeat the mantra, “I am not my grade. I am a daughter of the living God, chosen for God’s work.” Then I’d look at the markings on the inside. This helped me to remember who I was, whose I was, and what my purpose was. I was also two decades older than that fainting child in Italy.

As I would tell visitors to Perkins, “If your well-being is wrapped up in your grade average, you might want to rethink either that notion or choose another school.”
“Oh, really?”

“Yes, if you’re going on for a PhD, you’ll get over a 90 in your classes. The top grade for the Mdiv is 89. If you get any grade higher than that, the professor thinks you could do PhD level work.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” they said.

“It’s a curve. If you go elsewhere for a DMin, those schools know Perkins’ grading system. Think of it as an A at 89 and don’t worry about it.”

Some people can’t restructure their world so their 89 is an A, but if that’s the system they’re in, that’s how it is. If they have in their mind nothing less than a 95 will validate their worthiness, then if they do their degree work at Perkins, they’ll always be up against the immovable wall. When they go out into ministry, they’ll discover everyone they meet has a grading system. That can drive a person crazy, unless he or she decides the ultimate approval they seek comes from the one who says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Likewise, if we’re beginners in art, we have to suspend our criticism of our imperfections in our work. Instead, we reframe our critiques into “areas which need improvement.” Even now, after decades of working in my studio, I’ll let a canvas rest near me in my living room. I’ll eye it in different lights, until I hear it call my name. I’ve totally repainted some of these, and others I’ve destroyed. A few I leave alone. All of us will keep learning something new, both from our “good paintings “ and our “need improvement works.” Most likely, artists quit painting when they they think they have nothing left to learn, or when they lose the courage to risk moving into the unknown mystery, as it’s written in 1 Corinthians 2:9—

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Paul also writes in Romans 8:27-28,

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Louisiana

So we too ask the Spirit to work more in us and free us from attachment to our need to be loved and affirmed by our works, since God is already working for good for those who love God and who are called according to God’s purpose. As we drop our old ideas and preconceived notions of the good, we become open to God’s good and God’s purposes. Releasing control to God is an act of humbleness and faithfulness, both of which are contrary to our modern belief in self-actualization and autonomy. This is the way of the mystic, or the contemplative, and the inspired artist.

Gastrointestinal Transit: How Long Does It Take?
http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/basics/transit.html

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See – Kindle edition by Rohr, Richard. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com. (Also available in iBooks, for more money)
https://www.amazon.com/Naked-Now-Learning-See-Mystics-ebook/dp/B011H5IKU8/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2GSFR51RZ25BM&keywords=richard+rohr+naked+now+ebook&qid=1645568603&sprefix=richard+rohr+naked+now+ebook%2Caps%2C107&sr=8-1

The Heart of the City

arkansas, art, change, city, cognitive maps, Creativity, Historic neighborhood, hope, Imagination, mystery, Painting, trees

Cities are growing organisms, each having their central growth from their place of origin. Some begin on a waterfront, as a place of trade. Other communities began along a creek, where people would meet to connect, trade, and settle differences in peace. These were safe spaces, welcoming places, but they existed only so long as everyone acknowledged them.

In our cities today, safe spaces are rare. Some reasons are we don’t know everyone anymore, since our populations are so large. We don’t know who to trust, so we trust no one. If we’re anonymous, we think can do what we want, since no one knows who we are and we don’t know whom we harm. Of course, this is absurd, for if we do harm to another, we aren’t living out our best life, not to mention we’re not living out the wisdom of “Do unto others what you want done unto yourself.”

“Who knows what lurks in the heart of man?” the old radio program asked. “The Shadow knows,” was the answer. Most of what we know as the city is hidden behind the layers of paint, wallpaper, and various accretions of dust in our historic district. In Hot Springs, we can eat hamburgers in buildings where mobsters would hang out, walk the streets where old time baseball players strolled, and take hot baths where our ancestors took the “cure” for every disease known to humankind. They got clean, but the cure didn’t take.

Autumn Facade, Downtown Hot Springs

We have a civic interest in renewing our old buildings, for they attract tourists and provide incomes for owners and workers in our restaurants, shops, and hotels of all sizes and qualities. We have dive bars and first-class accommodations within a mile of each other. This is a sure sign of a community in transition. I won’t name either, but if Hot Springs were to be the setting of an old-time radio show, it wouldn’t lack for interesting characters or venues.

During this pandemic era, for it’s stretched long enough now to be called such a lengthy time, I’ve been working on a group of cognitive maps. A cognitive map is any visual representation of a person’s (or a group’s) mental model for a given process or concept. Cognitive maps have no visual rules they need to obey. There’s also no restriction on how the concepts and the relationships between them are visually represented. If we were to take a number of people to the same place, we’d most likely end up with the same number of maps. Some parts might overlap, but everyone would notice different aspects of the landscape.

My own cognitive maps start with a screen shot of a google map of a place I’ve been prepandemic, and work in process through sketches, then several layers of paint, and finally, the end product. This last stopping point sometimes comes only after I think I’ve finished the painting, but I leave it sitting out where I can look at it some more. In the looking, I discover, I’m not ready to release this image out to the world. It lacks unity, power, focus, or some other defining quality I can’t put words to. I only know I am unhappy with it the longer I look at it.

When I cook a recipe, I have a certainty if I follow the directions, I measure correctly, and my oven is true to temperature, I’ll come out with a good approximation of the original recipe. Afterall, I’m recreating someone else’s process and instructions. Making something new, from the imagination is part of the creative process. Sometimes the end product arrives easily, but other times, its birth is a struggle, and the child arrives crying to beat the band.

Creekside Landscape, Hot Springs, 2021 springtime

Most of us are used to seeing the landscape from our upright view, for we walk through our world with our head up every day as we reconnoiter along our daily paths. Some of us keep our heads buried in our phones, so we depend on the good nature of others to keep us from bumping into them, or these people must have particularly good side vision to avoid collisions with other walkers. We don’t have the bird’s eye view of the city, so we don’t see how the streets connect or how they follow the elevation changes. We also don’t get to see the patterns of tree growth, or the hidden waterways. Mostly we have a patchwork vision of just the immediate areas we inhabit, but not a vision of the whole.

Greenway Park Map: Apple Pencil Drawing on Google Map

I saved a screenshot to my iPad so I could draw on it. Color for me has emotional energy, so as I drew, I over laid the first colors with others. The changes the drawing went through prepared me for the changes through which the painting would transition. This pandemic has certainly been a time of change, but life has always been changing. One of my old friends always said, “Human beings are meant to change. We’re brand-new people every 27 days! That’s how often we get a whole new skin.”

I spent many years in the church, an organization not noted for changing. It’s not the organization that doesn’t want to change, but the people. We find those same people resistant to change in NASCAR fans, football fans, and any other group you want to name. As one wag said, “It was the 56th Super Bowl and they finally had rap music in Los Angeles, and NASCAR had Pit Bull at the LA Coliseum for the Clash for the first time in 43 years. If you have a point, it’s time to make it.” If we don’t like change, we should quit washing our bodies, since we’re just hurrying those dead skin cells off to their final demise.

First Stage of Greenway Park Map Painting

Artists must embrace change, however, for the moment we put a mark on a canvas or tap a stone with a chisel and hammer, we’ve changed the surface before us. We can’t be afraid to go into the emptiness or the unknown, for there we’ll find the beauty of the unspoken or the hope of the silence in which we work.

This stage of the painting adheres closely to the drawn image. The blue streets define the city blocks and a few building shapes are notated. It’s a complicated street map from one of our older sections of town.

Second Stage of Greenway Park Map Painting

On this repainting, I balanced the colors better, but kept the greens and oranges. I signed it, for I thought I was “finished.” I set it down in my living room to observe it for a while. I often do this with my work, for if it still looks good after six months, I think it’ll survive for a year. If it lasts a year, I think it’ll last longer. If I look at it three years later and it doesn’t survive, I’ll destroy it. This was painted during the winter, with the worst low light of the season. No wonder it looked grim under the brightening light of the returning sun.

Final Stage Greenway Map

Some sunshine has come into my life here in the middle of February. I’m very sensitive to the transition of light across the seasons, so when it begins to leave in October, I start shutting down. When the light begins to return again, I awake, as if from a hibernation. Perhaps this is the reason I took all my yellows and reds and overpainted the other colors on the canvas. Now my canvas is almost monochromatic, except for small streaks and blobs of color in places. You can still see the city blocks and streets, but now the over all feeling is less of a map and more of an energy record of the city area.

This is the city as it grows, as it lives, and as it changes. The dynamics and life blood of the city move and pulse as it transforms. Hot Springs is unique in that we keep as much of our old as possible and build new when we must. I’m thankful for this city, for its love of the arts, and its honor of its history, as well as its embrace of the future.

After all, that’s all any of us can do, is remember who we are, whose we are, and give thanks to the one whose steadfast love remains forever.

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

How Often Does the Epidermis Renew?
https://www.webmd.com/beauty/cosmetic-procedures-overview-skin

Paper Valentines

Abraham Lincoln, adult learning, art, brain plasticity, butterflies, Civil War, Creativity, Faith, Gettysburg Address, holidays, Love, Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day

Does anyone else find it unusual that Lincoln’s Birthday, the Super Bowl, and Valentine’s Day all fall within a single three day period? When I was young, we celebrated every holiday possible in public school, since these were teaching opportunities. I always loved them for the art periods and the story telling events. Not that I was deeply invested in the facts of history, but I cared about the personalities and the principles of their lives’ work.

This meant February focused on Lincoln and Washington both. Of the two, I always preferred Lincoln, perhaps because my teacher had our class memorize the Gettysburg Address. I was entranced by the thought Lincoln wrote this speech on the back of an envelope on the train ride out to that fateful battle field. It wasn’t true, but that’s just one of the hallowed myths of history we’ve spun about the giants of the past.

Of course, we always celebrated Valentine’s Day in the classroom with decorated boxes or bags for exchanging cards. The rule in class was to bring a card for everyone and leave no one out. No one meant no one. The cards didn’t have to be fancy, but everyone needed to get a card, handmade or bought. Of course, we always had some parental snack provided. I think we overdosed on sugar back in those days.

When we’re young, we don’t really have a sense of history, so we don’t see the connections from one act to the later consequence of another. It takes time for young people to mature, process, and grasp the connections between past, present, and future in order to navigate their place in time. When someone says the past is meaningless to them, they’ve built their house on a foundation of sand. The first lesson I always taught in art class was “Attitude, Behavior, and Consequences.” The second lesson was “Clean up after yourself and leave the art room good for the next group.” That first lesson was about how individual actions affected their own work and grades. The second was about community responsibility. And some folks thought I was just letting the kiddos have fun with colors, scissors, and glue.

But back to this Trifecta weekend. The very first Super Bowl was January 15, 1967. I’ve slept several decades since then, so I don’t remember if I watched it. Super Bowl XXXVI, was the first one held in February, but all of the prior February games have been held in the first week until this LVI event. That’s 56, for the non Romans among us. This is quite a streak, but all streaks are meant to be broken. This is how we get the great Trifecta of Lincoln, Super Bowl, and Valentine’s all in a row.

Scrap Paper Valentine: Civil War Era

Back during the Civil War, supplies were scarce. The supply chain nightmare isn’t a recent issue, for during the war, the South lacked supplies due to the Union embargo for imports and their crops were confiscated by both armies as they marched through the areas near the battlefields. One of the touching homemade valentines of the era was made in 1862 from scrounged paper by the Confederate soldier Robert King for his wife. The basket weave folded card, when opened up, showed two crying lovers, a particularly sad foretelling of his death.

Our class brought scrapbook papers, doilies, craft store items, and leftover crafting materials from past projects. All crafters seem to be packrats, but we also share our largess with others. None of us can say NO to the offer of free stuff. Our materials filled one whole table, so settling on a few items was our first choice. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with too many choices, but our group has learned to go with what strikes their fancy first. Digging through everything to look for a better option often is just a waste of time in a short class. Go with what calls your name. As my daddy would say, “Decide to fish or cut bait, honey. The day’s not getting any longer.”

Lauralei’s Valentine

As Lauralei was working on her Valentine, Jerry came into the room. Immediately she called out, “Don’t look—go away!” He laughed, and took a wide berth around our work tables. If you want to surprise someone, it’s hard if they’re also working at the church. I like the energy of the patterns on her Valentine. Love is never a static thing, even if it is steadfast and forever, but it’s constantly reaching out and pulling us toward one another.

Gail’s Valentine

Gail added another dimension to her work by bending the central heart image so it would stand up. This gave it depth and made the heart into a basket from which the butterflies could exit into the open space around it. That took an extra level of thought.

Outside of Gail’s Valentine

The birds and butterflies on the outer cover of Gail’s card are another variation on the theme.

Mike’s Valentine

I can always count on Mike to fill the surface with texture and color. He has no fear whatsoever. Exuberance is his middle name. He claims sarcasm is his love language, but that’s just his outward personality speaking. The inner messages on his card to his lovely wife tell her how wonderful she is and how glad he is to be with her.

Cornelia’s Valentine

I made mine as a landscape, rather than a card. The message, “Live, Laugh, Love” is a variation on a message my grandmother often wrote. I’ve always liked both butterflies and flowers, for they remind me both of the beauty and the transient nature of life. My Valentine is for those of blessed memory, as well as for those I love today, and maybe even for those I’ll love in the days to come.

“Love never fails, But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

The verse above is an example of historical consciousness in the arena of faith. All religions “take up the past by telling stories and making visible the arches that span over all times and join them together into a unified whole,” just as writers observe the facts of history and draw conclusions about the streams of history and the direction in which they flow. Yet we humans are also capable of forgetting, sometimes because we don’t want to remember and other times because we can’t recall events due to illness, lack of sleep, or inattention. We depend on trusted others to build the narrative for us, so we need to take care from whom we receive our instruction.

On this Super Bowl weekend, much will be made of the heroic efforts of the athletes on the field. There’ll be hype galore, costly commercials, illustrious and notorious folks in attendance for sure, and excessive eating and drinking across America. It may be a different game day than what we’ve been accustomed to, but then as Bob Dylan sings, “The times, they are a-changing.” If the NFL is writing a different narrative, it’s only because they’re finally including voices once suppressed. We can know the facts of history, yet fail to have an historical consciousness, just as we can identify the different styles of art and put them in historical order, but fail to have an aesthetic appreciation of the art itself.

President Lincoln delivered the 272 word Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the occasion of the dedication of the national cemetery for the war dead. Overall, casualties in that three day battle were enormous. At least 25,000 Confederates fell, representing nearly one-third of its army. One-third (12 out of 53) of Robert E. Lee’s generals were killed, wounded, or captured. More than 20,000 Union soldiers fell; General Meade’s subordinate command also suffered heavy losses. Lincoln helped to reframe citizens’ thinking about the cost and nature of this war.

The Super Bowl extravaganza will last nearly four hours and play $500 million in advertisements (about 70 in all),not to mention a preface of more than three hours of entertainment. Compare that to Lincoln’s speech, which lasted three minutes at most:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Go Bengals!

Joy, love, peace, and Go Bengals!

Cornelia

Super Bowl Winners and Results – Super Bowl History – National Football League – ESPN
http://www.espn.com/nfl/superbowl/history/winners

The Gettysburg Address
https://www.lincolncollection.org/discover/ask-an-expert/qa-archive/did-lincoln-write-the-gettysburg-address-on-the-back-of-an-envelope/

https://rmc.library.cornell.edu/gettysburg/good_cause/transcript.htm

View of Historical Consciousness in Youth. Theoretical and Exemplary Empirical Analyses | Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research
https://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/download/904/1974?inline=1

The City

adult learning, art, city, cognitive maps, Creativity, hope, Imagination, inspiration, Painting, pandemic

As an itinerant Methodist pastor I, along with my sisters and brothers, have had the privilege of answering God’s call to minister in different cities and towns. Sometimes I questioned the wisdom of the Holy Spirit working through my district superintendents and bishop, but I wasn’t alone in this. Other clergy have wondered why they were sent to “exile cities, ” just as our congregations often wondered why the bishop sent them the very last person at the bottom of the clergy bucket.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people taken from their homeland into exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE:

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (29:7)

God has a way of putting us where we need to be, just as God has a way of providing the leaders we need. Maybe not the leader we want, but the leader we need. Also maybe not the location we’d put at the top of our bucket list, but the place where God needs us to be in this present moment.

Making a painting has some of this same expectation and disappointment. In class we had the inspiration of “The City.” We don’t paint just the shapes, but also the emotions we feel about the subject matter. If we like the city, we’ll respond well, but if the idea of the city is distressing to us, we might not even be able to work at all. If I don’t have sufficient caffeine by 10 am, my creative juices don’t flow swiftly.

City in the Dark of Night

This was one of the inspiration images. It may be best understood as, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Also a poem, “The Cities Inside Us,” by Alberto Ríos, says “what the Shadow knows:”

We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece
Through the eye and through the ear.

It’s loud inside us, in there, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Not reach out
In place of the tongue.

Overpainted Houses

These brightly colored houses are the last layer of a heavily overpainted canvas. Underneath the house shapes with their gabled roofs, we can still see the faint images of rectangular buildings. The artist also scratched through the paint in places for texture and stumbled colors on top of other colors. This technique takes more time than two hours, since the bottom layers need to dry before the upper layers are added. The quality of paint is different also, since thin paint isn’t able to handle this type of work. It yields a much livelier and more optimistic image than the dark one above.

Seaside Houses

This image has not only the brightly colored houses of a seaside city, but also their reflections in the water below. The sky is broken up into planes of various tints of blue. There’s three distinct sections: foreground, middle ground, and background. It’s located in a real space, even though it’s rendered in flat and decorative colors.

Dusty’s Buildings on the Lawn

Dusty painted his buildings on a green lawn for a nice landscape setting. While he didn’t have time to render any details in our short class time, I could tell he was thoughtful about the placement of his colors and shapes.

Mike’s Atmospheric Sky and Cityscape

I asked Mike what his Myers Briggs Type was, since he has no trouble making a plan and executing it. My guess his first and last letters are E and J, and most likely S and T in the middle. Not everyone can make a plan right away, but some have to work on the canvas and let the painting begin to call itself into being. It becomes more of a conversation between the artist and the artwork.

Mike enjoyed bringing to life the night sky with its clouds and full moon. The mystery of a city and its buildings’ windows blazing with light in the night must be a memory he holds dear.

Lauralei’s City Under the Clouds

Lauralei’s city had some moody, overhanging clouds. The buildings underneath were transparent and fragile. It was as if they were a glass city, and a threatening storm cloud hung over the city. Worry and stress can wear a person down. I know anxiety is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. “You can’t cross the bridge until you get to it,” my mother always said. My Nannie would chime in, “Today’s trouble is enough. Don’t go borrowing trouble from tomorrow!” It’s best sometimes to put the work down and try again after giving our concerns over to God:

“The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,
and it will not rest until it reaches its goal;
it will not desist until the Most High responds.”
~~ Sirach 35:21

Sally’s City

Sally would have liked to work some more on last week’s painting, but tried this project instead. She’s still learning the limits of her paints, so this is why the building on the left has one green dot darker than the others. It was painted into the wet ground, so it picked up that color and dulled it. I saw that move out of the corner of my eye and suggested she let the building dry first. If we work all over the surface, or “do the big before the small,” we have a good chance our colors will stay clean and fresh. If we want grayed colors, we go ahead and paint into wet areas. The orange and blue complementary colors contrast nicely with the grays and violets.

Gail’s Copenhagen Painting

Gail used a photo to do her painting at home while under quarantine. She made a good rendering. I’d suggested to the group the week before we would do a city scene, so if they had a photo on their phone, or a postcard from a vacation, they were welcome to bring it. I guess the dog ate everyone’s homework! Except for Gail.

Gail’s inspiration image and painting
Cornelia’s Cognitive Map—1

My work went through several stages, rather like our continuing COVID pandemic. The map covers the area between our two city hospitals, National Park Medical Center and CHI St. Vincent. The former is at 100% occupancy in its ICU beds and the latter is at half capacity. National Park’s regular beds are almost 80% full, while CHI’s are about 55% full. In class time, I laid down some base colors according to a pattern from Google maps. Then it was time to pick up, clean our tools, and go home.

Cognitive Map—2

At home, after I recovered from a weekend of four exciting football games, I took several of my oldest fabric face masks, which are inadequate for our latest highly transmissible omicron variant. Abandoned masks are a common sight, joining the rest of the urban detritus that sully our city sidewalks now. I also added some of my grandmother’s crocheted rickrack for one of the main streets. I overpainted the bright colors with dark blue colors. Somehow rolling into the third year of this pandemic has sucked some of the energy out of me.

Cognitive Map—3

The dark night of COVID couldn’t last long for me, for I always have hope. I picked up my iridescent colors: silver, gold, and bronze. Mixing these, as I scumbled them over the base colors, I thought of the Psalmist (104:30):

“When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.”

Cognitive Map—4

I wasn’t truly satisfied until I pulled the gold, silver, and bronze mix over all the whole surface. Only a few of the bright colors from the original under painting remained as key notes to bring the eye around the canvas. I think I might have to make more three dimensional areas in another work. This one doesn’t have quite enough.

When I taught young children, I used to remind their parents children have a different purpose in art than adults do. Children are excited about the process, while adults want a finished image. Kids will push a work beyond its “boundary” just to experience the activity of making art, while adults often hold themselves back for fear they might go over the edge. We grownups need to have more of that childlike abandon, since going over the edge in art isn’t going to threaten life or limb.

This week we’ll paint from wildflowers. Drawing from our imagination is difficult if we haven’t practiced this skill. Drawing from an object we can see is much easier. We can look at it and sort out the basic shapes and lines. We can check the proportions to see if they relate to one another correctly. Sometimes we discover drawing from real life is actually just as hard as making something up out of our own creative ideas. Actually, everything about art is equally easy and difficult at one and the same time. We just have to relax and make the colors and shapes appear on the surface.

Remember the words of hope from Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile (29:11-14).”

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

The Cities Inside Us by Alberto Ríos – Poems | Academy of American Poets
https://poets.org/poem/cities-inside-us

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Hospital Capacity in Garland County, Arkansas
https://data.progress-index.com/covid-19-hospital-capacity/arkansas/05/garland-county/05051/

Pomegranates and New Life

adult learning, Altars, art, change, Creativity, Faith, greek myths, Habits, incarnation, inspiration, Israel, mystery, New Year, Painting, Persephone, pomegranate, renewal, shame, vision

Pomegranates are one of those seasonal fruits which show up at my grocery store along with tangerines and other Florida citrus fruits. When I was young, these were rare and extraordinary foods, unlike today, when we have fresh fruits from all corners of the world all year long. The only difference is the cost: if they come from nearby, they cost less than if they come from afar. When my daddy was a boy, fresh citrus at Christmas were a treat indeed.

Those that want to go back to the “good old days” often forget food was sometimes hard to get, for earlier generations also had supply chain disruptions as well as economic collapses. In the Depression Era, food became a gift, for it was often hard to come by. Oranges had a secondary meaning, for since they had segments, they could be shared. The lesson was all gifts were meant to be shared with others.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Proserpina, 1874

In art, the paintings of the saints follow a certain iconography, or visual images and symbols used in a work of art. Once we learn this language, we can “read the icon” and understand its meaning. The pomegranate typically stands for the Christian church, for it has many seeds within one fruit. In earlier Greek and Roman mythology, the fruit stands for Persephone/Proserpina, the daughter of Demeter/Ceres, the goddess of harvest and agriculture. Pluto, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone for his wife. Ceres became despondent and nothing above ground would grow. The Olympian gods arranged Persephone’s   release, but she eaten a few seeds of a pomegranate. Therefore, she could spend only part of the year above ground. This is how the ancients explained the seasons.

Pomegranate from Torlonia Catacomb

This story illustrates how Persephone became connected to the idea of dying and rebirth, so her symbol, the pomegranate,  also transferred over into Christian art as a symbol of immortality and resurrection. The term for appropriation of another culture’s symbol is syncretism. In a similar manner, in mythology, the dove was an attribute of Aphrodite/Venus; but in the Old Testament, Noah’s dove signified God’s covenant with mankind; and in the New testament, John the Baptist likened the dove to the Holy Spirit, which descended upon Jesus at his baptism. Painted pomegranates can be found on the frescoes of the Roman catacombs of Torlonia.

5th century CE church mosaic with pomegranates and fish, Israel

The imagery continued into the 5th century in a floor mosaic with a cross, stylized fish, pomegranates, and three chevrons representing Golgotha. Death on the cross is connected with the resurrection appearance of Christ and the disciples’ meal on the beach at Galilee.

Fra Angelico: Virgin and Child with Pomegranate, c. 1426

Fra Angelico’s Virgin and Child with Pomegranate is a beautiful example of a late icon. The Virgin of the Pomegranate takes its name from the pomegranate held by the Virgin and which attracts the attention of the Christ Child, who touches it. In this context the fruit has a double meaning: in the Virgin’s hands it refers to her chastity, while by touching it the Christ Child prefigures his own death and resurrection. It reminds us of Ephesians 5:25-26–

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.”

This iconography of chastity, cleanliness, and sacrifice was widely used in 15th-century Florence, where it interested artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.

Unknown Artists: Unicorn In Captivity, 1495–1505

The unicorn, a mythical animal to all but eight year old girls (and those of us who retain our eight year old hearts inside our full grown bodies), is a creature of fantasy, both then and now. From the same era as the Virgin of the Pomegranate is the beautiful tapestry of “The Unicorn in Captivity,” now at the Metropolitan, which may have been created as a single image rather than part of a series. In this instance, the unicorn probably represents the beloved tamed. Tethered to a tree and constrained by a fence, we see he could escape, for the chain isn’t secure and the fence is low enough to step over.

Clearly, however, his confinement is a happy one, to which the ripe, seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a medieval symbol of fertility and marriage—testify. The red stains on his flank don’t appear to be blood, for we see no visible wounds. Instead, they represent juice dripping from bursting pomegranates in the tree above. Many of the other plants represented here, such as wild orchid, bistort, and thistle, echo this theme of marriage and procreation; they were acclaimed in the Middle Ages as fertility aids for both men and women. Even the little frog, nestled among the violets at the lower right, was cited by medieval writers for its noisy mating.

Botticelli: Madonna and the Pomegranate, c. 1487, Uffizi, Florence.

Botticelli also painted his version of the Madonna and the Pomegranate about 1487. This painting now hangs in the Uffizi, in Florence, Italy. The Virgin seems aloof, reserved, or far away, as does the Christ child. The angels in attendance also seem not connected to one another or engaged with the viewer. They carry roses and lilies, flowers connected with purity. One angel has the Latin words of the beginning of the rosary on his clothing, which is notable since this prayer became popular in devotions in the 15th century. The baby holds a pomegranate, cut open to reveal the multiple seeds of suffering.

Botticelli was influenced by the loss of his patrons, the Medici family, and the rise of Savonarola, a Dominican monk, who wanted to not only reform a corrupt church, but also redeem a materialistic and humanistic society. He was the very opposite of the trade oriented and culturally progressive Medici family. Moreover, as the year 1500 approached, Savonarola preached an apocalyptic message of the end of the world. Botticelli’s delightful Birth of Venus would give way to the 1497 Mystical Crucifixion. Things didn’t end well for Savonarola, who was tried, convicted of heresy, hanged, and burned in 1498. Florence then returned to the city’s prior communal ideals, led by the next generation of the Medici family.

Lorenzo di Credi: Madonna and Child with Pomegranate

Often attributed to Da Vinci or Verrocchio, this Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate by Lorenzo di Credi, now in the National Gallery of Art, was painted in 1475-1480. He and da Vinci apprenticed under the same master, so their styles show some similarities. He’s better known for his portraits.

Lucy’s Italian Movie, 1951

I brought the pomegranates to art class because the new year deserves a new start and a new way of thinking about our lives. In the sacrament of holy communion, we recognize “many are made one,” for how many individual grains are ground for the bread and how many grapes must be crushed to fill a cup? I keep thinking of that Lucy and Ethel skit from I Love Lucy—you just knew walking in a circle in a grape vat would not end well, but you held your breath waiting to burst out laughing. Lucy’s comedic genius never failed us.

Mike’s Pomegranate

The joy of abundance jumps out in the bold brush strokes and colors of Mike’s painting. He loves coming to class, for it’s a time when he’s free. No one’s life depends on him in this time. He can give expression to this sense of freedom.

When we elevate the elements over the altar, we remind ourselves, “the one loaf is broken for all, just as the one cup is offered for all.” The pomegranates have many seeds, but they’re one fruit. The pomegranate reminds us of the mystical body of Christ, which we call the church. When we take communion, we receive the symbolic body of Christ, but we also receive the mystical body. We often limit ourselves to thinking the body of Christ is his actual body or perhaps only our church fellowship. We often forget there’s a greater body of Christ beyond our doors, and it’s not just formed of all the believers. The greater body of Christ is all of humanity, for we all share the same incarnation of his  spirit.

In several ways we can open our eyes to the “many within the one.” We can trace the history of the symbols we use to communicate our hopes and dreams with one another. Some of these are positive and worth keeping, but others might need retirement, under the “it’s good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (Romans 14:21). We get attached to the visible symbol, failing to realize others see the same symbol as harmful. For instance, some are so attached to their “authorized version” of a scripture translation, they idolize it above all other translations. In doing so, they make the vehicle more important than the content. No one would ever make an Amazon Prime delivery truck more important than its content, but we sure get distressed when our package gets mangled in shipping. I personally use an ebook for my Bible now, since it has more recent and multiple translations plus a Greek New Testament. Nevertheless, the God revealed is more important than the object itself, as we’re reminded twice in Exodus 20:2-3 and Deuteronomy 5:6-7:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

Gail’s Pomegranate

Gail is always careful to look closely for the details in everything she paints. Naturalism is her calling. In our brief time together, she might not finish her work, but finishing isn’t the goal. Learning to see is our goal and the secondary goal is making a likeness. The detail on the crown of the pomegranate is superb.

Sally’s Pomegranate

Sally has a good rendering of the pomegranate, yet she was unhappy with the background. We solved part of that together by identifying how the horizontal line dipped down at the intersection with the outer edges of the fruit. It’s a straight line now, because she fixed the places where the Hulk had hit the table behind the pomegranate. (If only we could do this in real life, disaster recovery would be a piece of cake). She has a circular pattern working, since she’s working on another piece with this same idea. It’s another example of how art is a continuity, not an isolated moment in time.

Cornelia’s Pomegranate

I went home to finish my painting. I took a photo to have a reference, rather than just painting from memory. As soon as I was in my quiet place, I realized my perspective was off—I could tell because the plate on which the fruit was resting didn’t break at the right height of the fruit. White overpainting fixed that problem. Our blue table cover, which has paint stains on it, became my background. As I told the class, my painting is brighter because it’s a primary color scheme: red, yellow, and blue. I also painted the juices, the secondary shadows, and the highlights of the nibs. Adding earth colors or black to a painting darkens its tone considerably.

Can we break old habits right away? If those who start a diet in the New Year have anything to teach us, restricting our eating lasts for about 10 days at best before we begin to cheat on it. Strava, a fitness brand, named  January 19th “Quitter’s Day,” since most people ditch their fitness resolutions then. Our question then becomes, how do we learn something new? How do we make progress? Perhaps, are we teachable, or willing to grow beyond what we know? The last question calls us to step out of our safe places, as Peter did when he stepped out of the boat onto the storming waves. When he was frightened, he called out, “Lord, save me!”

The good news about art class is no one will drown if we struggle to make what’s in our mind come out on our canvas. Sometimes our ideas are ahead of our technical abilities. Some days we’re tired or distracted. If I’m coming down sick, but not “sick sick” enough to be home, my work looks dead. It’s a sure sign I need to visit the doctor soon!

Next week we’re going to do color theory. We need to revisit the color wheel and make some of the interesting colors that don’t come straight from the tube. We’ll paint in squares, so this is a “entry level” class. Actually, all classes are entry level. Like a one room schoolhouse, you enter at your own level and progress from there. Your only competition is you. There’s no grades, no pass or fail. We come to give our best self a chance to grow and shine.

We’ll also be wearing masks again, due to that pesky omicron variant.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

Signs & Symbols in Christian Art – George Ferguson, George Wells Ferguson – Google Books

https://books.google.com/books/about/Signs_Symbols_in_Christian_Art.html?id=GF4XDp-eSTwC

Jewish Catacombs: The Jews of Rome: funeral rites and customs – Elsa Laurenzi – Google Books

https://books.google.com/books/about/Jewish_Catacombs.html?id=PmKBBj_qRbwC

Vaults of Memory—Roman Catacombs

http://archives.catacombsociety.org/vom/vomframes.html

Why We Put Oranges in Christmas Stockings

https://www.thekitchn.com/heres-why-we-put-oranges-in-stockings-at-christmas-holiday-traditions-from-the-kitchn-213985

Sandro Botticelli | Biography, Paintings, Birth of Venus, Primavera, & Facts | Britannica

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sandro-Botticelli

The Museo del Prado acquires The Virgin of the Pomegranate by Fra Angelico for €18m 

 

A Study of 800 Million Activities Predicts Most New Year’s Resolutions Will Be Abandoned on January 19: How to Create New Habits That Actually Stick | Inc.com

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/a-study-of-800-million-activities-predicts-most-new-years-resolutions-will-be-abandoned-on-january-19-how-you-cancreate-new-habits-that-actually-stick.html

Guido di Pietro, known as Fra Angelico: Virgin and Child with Pomegranate,  or The Virgin and Child with two Angels, or The Virgin of the Pomegranate, c.1426. Tempera on panel, 83 x 59 cm, Prado, Madrid.

Unknown Artists: The Unicorn Rests in a Garden (from the Unicorn Tapestries), weaving, Made in Paris, France (cartoon); Made in Southern Netherlands (woven), Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts, 1495–1505, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937, Accession Number: 37.80.6.

 

 

STARS AND THE WINTER SOLSTICE

adult learning, art, Astrology, chocolate, Christmas, cosmology, Creativity, Faith, Family, greek myths, grief, holidays, hope, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Marcus Aurelius, Ministry, nature, Painting, Philosophy, poverty, Spirituality, Stonehenge, trees, winter solstice

Stonehenge at Winter Solstice

This is a time of year when we look to the night sky for a sign. It’s not for nothing the depths of darkness are the beginnings of hope and our desire for the return of the healing light. People around the world and over the generations of time have celebrations of feasting, family reunions, and honoring their culture’s gods on the darkest day, or the Winter Solstice. The term solstice derives from the Latin word “sōlstitium”, meaning “the Sun stands still”. On the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches its southern-most position, shines directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, and seems to stand still there.

We’re all familiar with Stonehenge, a Neolithic stone monument in England built about 4,500 years ago to track important moments in the solar year. A later custom is the blazing Yule Log, a Norse tradition. The family would drag a huge piece of wood into their house, set it into the main fireplace, and let it burn for several days. It was a type of sympathetic magic to encourage the distant and faint sun to return, reinvigorated. The family often wrote down their desires for the new year as an offering to the gods. These were then burned in the fire. Afterwards, the family scattered ashes from the fire in the corners of every room in the house for good luck.

Hiroshige: The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō

The Chinese also have a Winter Solstice festival, which once was a new year’s festival. The family gathers to eat traditional foods, and they honor their ancestors, as well as the old ones still living among them. This poem by Ruan Yue, in the late Northern Song Dynasty speaks of this:

罗袜新成,更有何人继后尘。
The socks for elders are newly woven;
the custom should be handed down.

A later poet of the Song Dynasty, Fan Chengda, had a more optimistic outlook on the dreary and dark days before the Winter Solstice, or perhaps he was using “positive pep talk to reframe his grumpy mind.”

休把心情关药裹,但逢节序添诗轴。
Don’t be thinking about medicines all the time;
write a new poem at the solar term.

I can relate to Fan Chengda, for I find I have difficulty waking up without the sun streaming into my bedroom windows. I’m also more irritable and mopey on these dark days. It’s probably Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of depression related to the lack of light in this season. I tend to think dark thoughts, feel more pain, and lose my appetite, except for medicinal chocolate, which I consume under the Tim Allen mantra, “If some is good, more should be better!”

For Medicinal Purposes Only

When I get this type of mood on, the commercial Christmas we see on television and in the movies strikes a discordant note in my soul. I think about the ancient text, which reminds us when the parents of Jesus went to Bethlehem to be counted in the census: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

What most of us glide right over is Joseph had kinfolks galore in this town, but none of them opened their home to Mary, for she was pregnant before he married her. The innkeepers in town weren’t going to risk their reputations for these two either. Only one innkeeper took pity on them and let them stay with the animals in the stable. This marks the birth of the Christ child as an outsider to his whole extended family, the House of David.

Botticelli: Nativity, 1475

The Magi, or Wise Men, came from the East to visit King Herod, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”( Matthew 2:2)

Herod was worried he would be deposed, so he sent the Magi to find this child, then return and report to him. The Magi followed the star until it stopped over the place where the family was staying. They offered their gifts and returned home, without telling Herod where the baby was. Jesus was an outsider to the Roman occupation which propped up the local kings. He was a threat to the way governments rule the world.

Shepherds are the epitome of outsiders in the Bible, for they live outdoors among sheep and goats, neither of which are clean. In fact, anyone who’s gone camping knows how hard staying clean is. Glamping isn’t camping, and neither is RVing. My youthful experiences in Girl Scout camps of pitching tents and digging rain gutters is the closest I’ve ever been to living on the land. Even then, we had outhouses and cold water showers. The biblical city folk who could keep the ritual rules of cleanliness looked down on the shepherds as a lower class group, or outside of society.

Imagine a group of shepherds sitting around a nighttime fire, eating a simple meal, and chatting about their day or their families at home. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9). I’d be terrified also, as I imagine you would be too! There’s a good reason the first words out of angels’ mouths are “Do not be afraid!”

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Giotto: Nativity at Padua

If ever the outcasts of the world needed good news, if ever the hopeless needed a savior, if ever the least of all needed one just like them, it was these lowly shepherds, who went to find a newborn child lying in an animal’s feeding stall. No fancy crib for the newborn king, no royal robes or golden crown, just ordinary swaddling clothes. He looked just like any other child, except his birth was proclaimed by angels, honored by Magi from afar, and given a place through the grace of a kind innkeeper.

Those of us who will celebrate Christmas with our families, our extended friends, and our relations in a wild, chaotic buzz of coming and going, feasting and drinking, and perhaps exchanging of gifts, don’t know the quiet and holy night when the light of the world entered “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79)

We keep our homes lit inside and out with megawatts of electric lights, both colored and white. Some of us even cue our lights to blink to seasonal music. Those of us who live beyond the great urban areas, can better see the stars at night, since there’s no light pollution. This is one reason we need to keep our national parks as close to nature as possible, for one day, these may be the only places people can marvel at the bright stars against the dark canopy of the sky above.

Gail: Stars across the Sky

Gail brings her love of the outdoors and her experience as a park ranger to her work. Over the trees, a floating band of stars become a pathway across the night sky.

Mike: Sun, Moon, and Stars

Even if our assignment was stars, that never means “only stars.” After all, the sun is a star, which is very close to us, astronomically speaking. If you’re going to have the sun and stars, you might as well have the moon also. I always say, “Why not?” The Tim Allen rule sometimes applies in art class: “More power!” When you go too far on the Tim Allen scale, that’s when his sidekick Al reminds him, “Sometimes less is more.” Mike certainly captures the energy and joy of the celestial bodies in this painting through the bold colors and strong brush strokes.

Sally: The Cosmos

Sally had an idea in her mind, but no image to look at. She wanted to show the cosmos in motion, as if God were looking down upon it. In her mind’s eye, she imagined this from memory. As she worked on the small canvas, she’d add more paint into the areas which weren’t quite dry and got somewhat frustrated at the paint not bending to her will. As a matter of technique, painting into a dry area is better than continuing to add color to a wet area, since the wet brush picks up the wet layers below that. Mike and Gail, having many sessions under their belts, have already crossed this particular bridge. She also learned something significant. It’s easier to paint something when you can look at it. I think it’s a good start and it holds promise: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:41).

Cornelia: Starry Night

I’m not a fast walker, nor do I get down the road quickly. I’m too busy noting the color of the sky, thinking what colors to mix to get the grey trees of a late December day, or how to paint the towering cumulus clouds of summer. I file these thoughts away in the treasure house of my mind, for one day I’ll need them. I look at the shadows of the leaf clumps on trees, but not at each leaf alone. The tree leaves are communities, not individuals. They exist as groups, so the artist treats them as such.

I’m not sure about others, but many walkers are fixed on their personal best speed, or going a half mile longer. Some people drive to the grocery store and make their list in their head as they go. In the store, they make a new to do list for the home, and once that’s done, they make another list for the next day. The cycle starts all over again. They never once raise their eyes to greet the stars, to note the cycles of the moon, to enjoy the sunset colors, or the sunrise either. They’re probably more productive than I am, but I take time to reflect deeply on the “why of things” rather than repeating the same rhythms over and over. Most people like the familiar rhythms, however, while I question if they still have meaning in today’s world.

Today I saw the Winter Solstice Dawn

In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans thought the stars had a power and energy to determine the fates of human beings. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and stoic philosopher of the 2nd century, wrote in his Meditations: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” From his privileged location, he could identify with the heroic persons in the astrological figures of mythology.

Some people are “born under a bad sign,” or are unlucky in life. Of course, some say we make our own luck, but people born into harsh circumstances lack the same resources to make choices for good. The deck is stacked against them, from living in trauma filled neighborhoods to a lack of quality foods due to a paucity of grocery stores. As Albert King, the great blues artist once sang, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

The good news is the bright light of the Christmas star points to the new light, which has come into the world. We hear, amidst the cacophony of commercials and piped in musical carols, the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (60:1).

As a gift, you can listen to the great Albert King sing “Born Under a Bad Sign,” by copying the link below to your browser.
https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=F2IqJtBL6yk&list=OLAK5uy_kRTT9VaZ7Ht_pjIoBhtqhS_99sMi_D5a4

Our art class returns Friday, January 4, 2022, at 10 am. I hope to bring pomegranates, if I can still find them in the store. We’ll make a fresh start in the New Year, so if you want to join, you’ll start where you are. We are a “one room schoolhouse,” so there’s no grade levels with us. We’re all learning and improving from where we are at the moment.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

How to Make a Yule Log
https://www.learnreligions.com/make-a-yule-log-2563006

5 Most Beautiful Chinese Winter Solstice Poems to Appreciate
https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/winter-solstice-poems.htm

The New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness | CIRES
https://cires.colorado.edu/Artificial-light

A Map of a Changing World View

art, change, cognitive maps, cosmology, Creativity, Faith, Healing, Icons, mappa mundi, nature, Painting, Pantocrator, renewal, Spirituality, vision

Jesus and The Cosmos

When our world is changing “faster than we can say Jack Rabbit,” sometimes life can get overwhelming. My dad often used this quaint phrase when he wanted something in a hot minute, like a bowl of ice cream just before bedtime. Or when he wanted us kids to get a move on and not dilly dally. Usually we were messing around and goofing off when our parents had time constraints, so the tone of his voice sometimes sharpened with the promise of consequences if we weren’t front and center right now. My parents were usually in hurry mode, while we kids never quick unless the destination was the local Dairy Queen. We all screamed for ice cream in my family.

This clock knows which way the wind blows

Grownups have a different sense of time than children do. Adults know from experience how short lived is the human existence, for they’ve lived long enough to have loved and lost. Children, who’re generally protected from such harsh realities, live in worlds in which time both stretches into eternity and seems to stand still. I call this variable sense “rubber band” time, since it can both stretch to the moment of breaking, but also snap back to inertia or non movement. For children, especially at year end, Christmas comes on lumbering feet, but for parents, the season is far too brief. The day blows through on a wind from the north, like a polar front charging into the Deep South on a mission to freeze every fragile magnolia blossom before the new year can make an appearance.

Treasure at the end of the rainbow

Children’s worlds are different from adults, for they still have a sense of wonder and all things are new to them. I remember seeing my first rainbow high up in the sky. I put up such a clamor on the front porch as I called for my mother, she was sure I’d seen a snake or some dangerous animal. She was put out I’d called her away from her household tasks “just to see a rainbow.” To this day, I still think rainbows are wondrous writings in the sky and meant to give us joy for our mundane lives. Seven decades later, the child in me still celebrates rainbows.

Our sense of time changes as we age, for everything a child sees is a first and a best. This is why we can have such deeply imprinted memories from our childhoods. Later on, we’re doing the same things over and over, so unless these events stand out for some different reason, they all tend to blend together. We also tend to think of these as “this is the way life is,” or they become the “model” for our world. This is also known as our cognitive map.

Some people can give good directions to their home, while others wouldn’t be able to get someone to their place even if they lived in a teacup. Those “others” lack good cognitive maps, for they don’t have a good mental image of the landmarks on the way to their home. Today, our cognitive maps are undergoing rapid change. The world we used to know doesn’t exist, mostly because of COVID. Once we had a service economy, but now we don’t do face to face experiences because of the pandemic, so we buy goods. We’re buying so many goods (can we ever buy bads?), we have supply chain problems trying to provide them all. We’re so used to same day or next day delivery from our pre-pandemic lives, we think our world is coming to an end if it’s going to take a week to get our cherished gifts delivered.

That old world existed back in 2005, when Amazon Prime partnered with the US Postal Service for its packages’ last leg of delivery. Today we have on demand groceries ordered through the app for immediate pick up or delivery, as well as restaurant foods for the same. This was unimaginable just a decade ago. It’s still so new, some folks won’t use it, even if they were on their death bed. Their cognitive map won’t let them try a new thing, for these new places and experiences aren’t encoded on their mind maps.

British Library: Mappa Mundi

The ancient world maps, dating from the peak of the Middle Ages, take their cartography from both faith and geography. One of the earliest is the Map Psalter, which takes its name from its full-page illustration of a map of the world. It’s design shares close parallels with the famous Mappa Mundi, now housed at Hereford Cathedral. The manuscript was made in London during the latter half of the 13th century but after 1262, as the Psalter’s calendar commemorates on 3rd April the feast day of St Richard of Chichester (d. 1253) who was canonized in 1262.

The image shows Christ holding the orb of the world, flanked by two angels. The map itself is highly detailed. Jerusalem is marked in the center, with Rome appearing slightly below it. Major rivers, such as the Ganges and the Danube, are drawn in blue, and the Red Sea is also included. Representations of the so-called ‘Marvels of the East’ line the right-hand side of the painting. The British Isles are found to the lower left.

Hereford Mappa Mundi

The Hereford Mappa Mundi is unique in Britain’s heritage. An outstanding treasure of the medieval world, it records how 13th-century scholars interpreted the world in spiritual as well as geographical terms. The map bears the name of its author, ‘Richard of Haldingham or Lafford’ (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire). Recent research suggests a date of about 1300 for the creation of the map. An unknown artist drew the Hereford Mappa Mundi on a single sheet of vellum (calf skin), measuring 64 × 52 inches (1.58 × 1.33 meters), tapering towards the top with a rounded apex.

The geographical material of the map is contained within a circle 52 inches in diameter and reflects the thinking of the medieval Church, which places Jerusalem at the center of the world. Drawings of the history of humankind and the marvels of the natural world are superimposed onto the continents of the world. These 500 or so drawings include around 420 cities and towns; 15 Biblical events; 33 plants, animals, birds, and strange creatures; 32 images of the peoples of the world; and 8 pictures from classical mythology.

We all make maps in our minds, otherwise we’d get lost going from our easy chair to the kitchen to get a snack on a commercial break. This is because our hippocampus is working well. Some of us have a talent for getting lost in a proverbial tea cup, especially when landmarks aren’t visible. When I lived in Colorado, I always knew which way I was headed as long as I could see the mountains. At night, I had no idea, so I could get lost easily.

T shape map, East at top

The ancient western world oriented their maps with east at the top and Jerusalem at the center because the sun rose in the east and faith was primary in their world view. The Chinese, who were the first to invent the compass, often drew maps with South on top because they always thought the compass pointed to South. South was their sacred direction, for in any religious or royal ceremonies the kings faced south. This perception may have come because the northern parts of China were cold and dark.

The Islamic maps of the era also drew the south on top, since the initial Islamic habitations were north of Mecca. Therefore, South-oriented maps would show the followers looking up towards it. Yet, our maps today orient north instead, due to Mercator, the noted mapmaker of the 16th century. By this time, sailors were navigating not only by the North Star, but also with the compass. Their sailing records were complete and detailed. Mercator used these to create the first Mercator Projection map, which was more correct than any map beforehand. After this map, all western maps set North as the top of the map.

Columbus managed to find the Americas in 1492 with the map he had at the time, but he was convinced he’d found islands outlying Japan or Asia because he’d traveled the distance the map had indicated was necessary to find the Asian continent. This is a classic case of cognitive dissonance, for the map Columbus had in his mind and in his hand didn’t correlate with reality. This disconnect can cause us discomfort or cause us to make decisions or conclusions based on a reality that no longer exists or doesn’t fit the facts in hand.

All of us have this problem, to one degree or another. As we grow up, we discover our childhood myths are just stories, and the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Rabbit, and Santa Claus aren’t real, but just our parents acting in secret to bring magic into our childish world. As the oldest child in my family, I recall the Christmas I realized Santa Claus wrote in the same distinctive script for which my father was known. Unlike many doctors, my dad had elegant and legible handwriting. At the tender age of five, I made the choice to keep the secret of Santa Claus safe for my younger brother’s sake. Besides, as long as I believed, I would get presents from both my parents and Santa. Keeping the Santa secret safe had its advantages.

These old maps also remind us how our point of view determines our world view. If we see the world with the eyes of faith, we’ll observe the world through a different lens than the person who looks through a microscope or telescope. A person of faith can look through these tools and see the wonders of God in the smallest or most distant bits of creation, but without faith, these views will be unique, but not inspiring.

In ancient times, while sailors navigated with their eyes fixed on the Northern Star, they also depended on the written records of previous sailors. They depended on the capricious sea gods to protect them and their cargo from harm. Sailing was a dangerous occupation and goods were often lost at sea. The apostle Paul was caught in a storm on the Mediterranean for two weeks, when the crew finally threw the cargo of wheat overboard to lighten the load. Even in the first century, there were supply chain issues in the grocery business (Acts 27). Afterwards, Paul met and healed people on shore and the ship finally got under way with new supplies to replace the old ones.

Today, our settled lives have been upended by a tiny virus that seems to mutate and persist. What we used to know as normal now feels strange. I grew up hand washing dishes at the kitchen sink, but since COVID and the demise of my garbage disposal, I’m back to hand washing them until the plumber can rotorouter my drain and I can put Mr. Dishwasher back to work. I’m not sure my dishes are clean or sanitary. Of course, I obviously made it to a ripe old age without a dishwasher, but the pandemic has changed my worldview. I see germs everywhere now.

“‘Adjusting our expectations to account for unpredictability, uncontrollability, and the fact that our lives may be disrupted on and off, and building that into our expectations, would be good for our mental health,’ said Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “As humans, we don’t have as much control as we think we do. The virus has just made it very clear.” Many of us have a world view that puts us in charge of all things, when in truth we aren’t the captains of our fate.

First Stage, Map Icon

The first stage of my icon map followed the original map fairly well, but I let it rest next to my easel for a long time. This was a sure sign I wasn’t happy with it. The old map was a world view which belonged to a different age, but not to me. When I thought of my own world view, Jesus still had priority as Lord and Ruler of creation, but the world over which he reigned wasn’t merely the earth, but all of the known universe.

After a vacation, I decided to repaint it. The central swath of color represents the Milky Way in the night sky, as seen from earth. The warm golds and reds are the energies of all the planets and the stars in our universe, as well as the heat of all the life on earth. If we are all one, and Christ is lord of all, we humans have a particular responsibility to care for life in all its forms. As John 10:10 reminds us, Jesus said:


“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

Cognitive Map – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/cognitive-map

Map Psalter, British Library
https://www.bl.uk/british-library-treasures/articles/maps-and-views

Mappa Mundi | Hereford Cathedral
https://www.herefordcathedral.org/mappa-mundi

No, It’s Not Just You: Why time “speeds up” as we get older – Science in the News
https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/no-not-just-time-speeds-get-older/

Why maps point North on top? – Geospatial World
https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/why-maps-point-north-on-top/

The Washington Post Analysis | This is how America is responding to Omicron
By Olivier Knox and Caroline Anders
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/12/03/this-is-how-american-is-responding-omicron/

KISS Principle and The Six Degrees of Hydrangeas

adult learning, art, Bartram’s Nursery, brain plasticity, butterflies, Creativity, Faith, flowers, garden, inspiration, Ministry, nature, Painting, purpose, renewal, righteousness, risk, Spirituality, Travel

These dried hydrangeas, a gift from North Carolina, traveled home with me from my vacation back east to see my youngest nephew marry the love of his life. My childhood friend cut them from the bushes in front of her beautiful retirement home in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Lake Junaluska, the famed Methodist Retreat Center. Her home is about an hour away from the Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home. I’ve now been to both historic places, known for their hospitality, and enjoyed the hospitality of two friends’ homes, who live not an hour apart. I knew both of these gals growing up back home, and now they know each other through me.

Hydrangeas and Coffee on a Cloudy Carolina Morning

Hydrangeas are native to America. Two well-known hydrangea species, among others, grow wild in North America — the H. aborescens (smooth leaf) and H. quercifolia (oak leaf). Their actual cultivation began in the 1700s. An historic trifecta of our forefathers’ estates is proof: Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier all cultivated these hydrangeas.

Bartram’s Garden, possibly drawn by a young William Bartram

William Bartram, of Bartram’s Nursery in Philadelphia, provided the seeds and plants for these historic homes. James Madison’s home, Montpelier, in Vermont, still has the creamy white heads of H. arborescens as a border for his garden wall. The Bartram Gardens were a natural history project begun by his father John Bartram and continued through the generations, with William’s love of travel and exploration leading to a four-year collecting trip to the American Southeast and the publishing of an account of his travels in 1791. It became a classic text in the history of American science and literature.

Documents from Mount Vernon record how in 1792, George Washington planted a native hydrangea, H. arborescens, on the bowling green at his home. Nearby, when Thomas Jefferson was designing his gardens and walkways at Monticello, he also included these new shrubs. Today, gardeners can purchase heirloom H. quercifolia seeds from the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants in Monticello.

The notion everyone is connected by just six stages of separation gained popularity in the early 2000’s based on scientific studies done in the 1960’s. The game Six Stages of Kevin Bacon was based on this idea. Today, due to social media and the internet, some people have only 3 or 4 stages of separation. Our founding fathers ran in the same circles, so their stages of separation were small.

Hydrangeas also come from Japan, where they’re the subject of many brush and ink paintings. The flowers hold a solid role in Japanese culture. The Japanese celebrate the hugely popular Ajisai (hydrangea) festivals in the blooming seasons of late spring and summer. Pink hydrangeas are given on the fourth wedding anniversary. Hydrangea gardens often grace the grounds of sacred Buddhist temples. People enjoy amacha, or tea from heaven, on April 8, Buddha’s birthday. Amacha is brewed from leaves of the Hydrangea serrata.

Steps ascending to Meigetsu-in Temple

While western churches are sited in lawns, as if they were sheepfolds to shelter the sheep within and protect them from the outer world, eastern Buddhist temples incorporate nature into their design and sites. This reminds us everything is one. As Father Richard Rohr reminds us in his book, The Universal Christ, the author of Colossians 1:19-20, puts this idea plainly:

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

A classic example is the Buddhist Meigetsu-in Temple, which was founded in 1160 as a Rinzai Zen temple of the Buddhist Kenchō-ji school. Located in Kamakura, Japan, its nickname is the hydrangea temple, for from the end of May through July, thousands of hydrangeas bloom during the rainy season. The temple is a Japanese national historic site.

When I first brought in the dried flowers to class, the first reactions I heard were, “Wow! You brought those all the way from North Carolina intact?” and “This is gonna be hard!” I’ll let you figure out who said what!

My answer was, “Sure, I’m an old art teacher, and I’m prepared for anything. I had a travel box in my SUV trunk, so they nestled quietly there on the journey home. As for hard to paint, remember what I always tell you, don’t paint the eyelashes before you get the shape of the face. The KISS principle always applies.”

“You mean keep it simple, stupid?”

“Mike, the one who wants to learn and stretch their mind is never stupid. KISS stands for KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUDENTS.”

They all laughed. Most of us can’t see the big forest because we’re looking at all the individual trees. If we step back and get a sense of the whole first, we can see how the parts relate to one another. This helps us put the basic sketch onto the surface of our work. It also gives us a moment to observe the subject before us and catch that moment of interest, which we can then emphasize.

Image Ball in Shadow and Light

As I reminded folks, “This looks difficult, but the basic shape here is a big ball. We’ve already done geometric balls. You thought those were boring, but they had a purpose. You needed that skill to be able to see the same shape in nature and recognize the same pattern of light and dark shadows.”

They nodded their heads. Teaching often is just reminding people what they already know or reinforcing previous skills from a different viewpoint. We went on to the slide show. It helps to see how other artists have handled the subject of the day. I’ve always enjoyed show and tell time, for it gives us inspiration and education both. Every time we learn something new, we have a new wrinkle in our brains. At a certain age, this is the only place we want to get wrinkles!

Inuzuka Taisui: Butterfly and Hydrangea, 1930, Woodblock print

This lovely Japanese woodblock print is from the era when Japan moved from its historic monarchy into the beginning of its new democratic government. The old emperor was confined to the palace due to illness, so the western educated prince regent Hirohito was the default leader. During this time, the people favored western art styles, such as this romanticized Shin-hanga print, instead of the older artists’ works of the floating world, or Ukiyo-e. The Japanese continued to prefer the works of the floating worlds, with the dancers, actors, musicians, and tea houses.

Of course, Taisui and the other artists of the Shin-hanga movement were producing for a distant audience, who may never have set foot upon the island of Japan. What we think we know of a place is one thing, but until we experience it first hand, we won’t know its truth and its power, except by word of mouth. Taisui was active for only a decade, as far as we know, from 1920 to 1930, but he made numerous prints of plants, insects, and birds, which still bring joy to us today.

T. Adams: Hydrangeas and Lilacs, palette knife technique

I found this painting on Pinterest. I pointed out how the artist didn’t paint every single flower petal, but still got the message of “hydrangeas” across. This is a palette knife work, so it builds up the shapes from back to front. An artist can’t just throw paint on the canvas like some piece of spaghetti against the wall and hope it sticks. We always have to put our thinking cap on and build up the shapes from back to front and from dark to light. We also have to pay attention to the direction of the light if we’re doing a realistic image.

Allison Chambers: Yesterday (Hydrangeas), oil on canvas, c. 2017-21

This second rough image by Allison Chambers is another example of not painting all the minute details, but getting the main idea across (KISS). This is why billboards don’t use small print and politicians use sound bites. We’re moving too fast on the highway to read the fine print and our attention spans now are less than a goldfish! Sad but true, a goldfish can focus for nine seconds, but the average human only for eight seconds.

We can blame phones, social media, and our desire to be connected all the time. Once we were content to call once a day, but now we have to check in twice a day or more. Some of us find that much contact interferes with getting things done, but then self starters don’t need anyone checking up on them. These folks tend to think frequent callers need to find another hobby to fill their time. Everyone needs a purpose in life, so those who’re trying to micromanage others might need to spend that energy helping the poor with food distribution or expending that excess energy doing good elsewhere. Then again, maybe those frequent callers are just lonely. They might need to use those dialing fingers for good as part of a community prayer chain. Then they can connect in prayer and feel useful too.

Doris Joa: Hydrangea with Ivy, watercolor on paper, 2015

This last image does have many details. It’s a watercolor built up in thin layers of washes to get the desired result. When working with washes, we have to have time and patience, and channel our inner goldfish, so we can manage our attention spans. Our first inclination is to work wet in wet, over and over, but that just muddies up our colors in that space. We need to let that spot dry, move to a new spot, paint it, and keep painting and moving, until we get the whole first layer done. Then we can come back and lay in darker tones in certain areas, once again moving about the canvas, for if we repaint too soon, we’ll just lift up the underpainting.

This takes focus and intent, as well as the ability to reserve judgement on our work, since it takes time for it to come into being. This isn’t a simple skill, for delayed gratification isn’t practiced often today. Even when we work our plan and execute our technique to the best of our ability, the end result may seem lacking. Yet, we’ve grown, or else we wouldn’t realize our struggle didn’t meet our expectations. When we want more, we can see how far short our efforts fall. This should encourage us to continue the challenge.

As Philippians 3:12-14 reminds us about the spiritual life:

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

After show and tell, we sat down to paint. We’d done enough talking and presenting of models. We had enough to chew on for the short time our class meets. If we have two hours, we use the first 15 minutes on presentation and the last 15 minutes on cleanup. This gives us about 90 minutes to paint. We don’t make large works, but sometimes we take an extra day to finish what we started. I’d call most of our work “studies,” since they’re quickly done.

Gail’s Hydrangeas

Gail chose to do color exploration and deeper, more saturated applications of paint, rather than her usual washes. This was a bold experiment for her. Art is a risky business. We can’t always control what the brush will do. Most of us have been trained since childhood to “color within the lines.” Once the paint gets loose, we’re in uncharted waters, sailing out into the deep ocean and out of sight of familiar landmarks. We can either turn back and hug the safe shore, or sail out to discover the unknown land. Taking risks is how we grow.

Mike’s Hydrangeas

Mike’s love of texture is apparent in his painting, as well as a variety of color. While the colors aren’t natural to the subject, he chose the colors which made him feel good. His is an emotional response to the beauty of the flowers. He wasn’t happy with the opening of the vase, but he got so carried away with the flowers, he forgot his perspective principles.

We might need to reteach that lesson once again. Some lessons need reteaching multiple times. This is why Jesus spoke in the gospels about God 264 times and love 44 times. Money rated 24 mentions, riches 2, the neighbor 10, and the poor 25. If we ever wondered what Jesus was focused on, we might look at what he emphasized in his ministry.

Cornelia’s Hydrangeas

I noticed we each gave our flower pots a different look when we painted our canvases. None of us are dedicated copyists. My color scheme tilts toward the red-orange, yellow-green, and blue-violet. This is a secondary triad, rather than a primary triad of red, yellow, and blue. The mixed colors give the flowers their muted look.

Secondary Triad on Cornelia’s Hydrangeas

By adding white to some of the brush strokes, and darker tones to others, I was able to suggest individual flowers as well as shapes. It’s just a quick sketch, a work I would do in preparation for a larger painting. Doing this would help me get some ideas down and help me solve some problems in advance, as if I were training for a competition. I would know if my color scheme was working, or if I needed to change the values or tints. I might want to choose a deeper color, or certainly a larger canvas.

So we come back for another day and another try. We can “see the promised land,” but like Moses, we don’t know if we’ll ever reach it. Artists have to be incurable optimists, for they keep trying again and again, even though we know human perfection in art will always be out of reach. Yet as Paul reminds us in Romans 3:21-24, if perfection in art eludes us, we can still have “Righteousness through Faith:”

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

May we all go onto perfection, with God’s help—
Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

Hydrangeas: A History
http://thehouseandhomemagazine.com/culture/hyndrangeas-a-history/

Taisho Democracy in Japan: 1912-1926
https://www.facinghistory.org/nanjing-atrocities/nation-building/taisho-democracy-japan-1912-1926

William Bartram – History of Early American Landscape Design
https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php/William_Bartram

Kamakura’s Famous Hydrangea Temple: Walk Among Flowers in Japan’s Ancient Capital
https://livejapan.com/en/in-tokyo/in-pref-kanagawa/in-kamakura/article-a0001996/

Science: You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish
https://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/

The Science Behind Six Degrees
https://hbr.org/2003/02/the-science-behind-six-degrees